INDIANAPOLIS — Plan A had fallen through.
Perry Fewell sat in the Giants war room on draft day 2010 and watched as their target — Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain — was whisked off the board before they chose at No. 15.
General manager Jerry Reese then turned to his coaches and threw out another name, the defensive coordinator remembered.
Then came two questions: “Can you mold this guy? Can you coach this guy?”
Fewell’s reaction was immediate and visceral.
“Hell, yeah, I was excited,” he said. “I had a big smile on my face.”
The Giants find themselves in their second Super Bowl since 2008, once again facing the Patriots. But reaching Super Bowl XLVI was just as much a victory off the field — in the meeting rooms, the draft room and on the road by scouts — as it was on the turf.
How this team — a very different one than the 2007 champs, with just 18 players still under contract from that squad — was built provided the road map it followed to Indianapolis.
There were draft picks such as Pierre-Paul. Roster decisions such as keeping unproven, undrafted players like Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard. And the collection of depth with veterans such as Kevin Boothe and Rocky Bernard.
“That’s our philosophy: Build through the draft and develop players,” Reese said. “I think that’s long-term (building). You can keep more players on your roster (longer) that way.”
But Joe Gibbs, the former Washington Redskins coach and team president, contends the Giants have done more than that. They’ve also built camaraderie.
“I think they’ve done a good job just building the team and picking people,” he said. “I’ve always said, ‘Picking people is the hardest thing in the world.’
“Character is always first.”
Reese has been vindicated following criticism he received after the Giants went 10-6 last season, but failed to reach the playoffs.
“That’s the difference between being a smart guy and a not-so-smart guy,” he said. “Last year I wasn’t so smart. This year we win nine games (and) I’m smarter. Go figure.”
The selection of Pierre-Paul is a telling peek into just how smart Reese might be.
The obvious need two years ago was at linebacker following Antonio Pierce’s retirement. Meanwhile, Pierre-Paul was a virtual unknown among fans with only one season of major college football experience. Plus the Giants already had Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end.
But Reese again was vindicated when Pierre-Paul became an All-Pro in his second season, registering 16 1/2 sacks.
“We don’t go into the draft saying, ‘We’re looking for a defensive end, a quarterback,'” he said. “After we get good players, we fill in around (them), the holes that we need. That’s our formula.”
The Giants have found those cornerstones in Eli Manning, Tuck and Pierre-Paul among others. Dependable players like Dave Tollefson, Deon Grant and Chase Blackburn then filled the “holes.”
The Giants roster was built with 25 players through the draft, 24 free agents — including eight undrafted players, two trades and two players signed off waivers.
They’re talented, coachable and fit into the team’s systems, according to Carl Banks, the Giants’ radio analyst and former linebacker.
“(Reese has) built a group of players in an era of free agency,” he said. “He’s developed some players. He didn’t go out and get the most high-profile players, but the guys that fell off the radar.”
One of them was Cruz.
The Paterson, N.J., native went from unknown to superstar, with 82 receptions and a franchise-record 1,536 yards. And he still has one year remaining on his contract at only $490,000.
But as important as skill players are, Reese said his top priority are the lines, especially pass rushers like Pierre-Paul. He credits the late Tom Boisture, the former director of personnel, with teaching him to prioritize “the bigs.”
“If you don’t have big people, you’re going to get run over in this league,” he said.
And win or lose on Sunday, work on next season’s roster has already begun.
“We never stop that. Our scouts are actually looking at film right now at the hotel,” Reese said. “That process never stops.”